Good morning everyone, and welcome to the penultimate deep-dive of a four article mini-series (read Volume 1 and Volume 2) here in Masterpiece Theater. These articles will take a closer look at the new weekly-release Marvel Unbound set from Upper Deck Entertainment, an ePack exclusive set of cards that can be redeemed for their physical counterparts. It’s made up of 52 different base cards and four quarterly achievement battle cards, each featuring new original work by smash-hit artists fred.ian!

fred.ian is an artistic duo made up of French artist and illustrator Fred Roy and his studio assistant Ian. They work traditionally in oils and have been painting comic book characters for the past eight years. You can find their sketch cards in various Upper Deck sets as far back as 2017, and now for the first time they’ve now been commissioned to bring their exceptionally vivid and hyper-realistic style to a full set of Marvel cards.

This adventure began in May 2021, and there is still almost a full quarter to go! At 9am PST every Monday one card in the series is released via Upper Deck’s online trading platform ePack. Collectors can purchase up to three one-card packs per transaction for as long as they are available (usually less than 15 minutes, and never more than a few hours; only one or two have lasted until the next day). Each card is limited to 999 numbered copies, along with 50 Gold Autograph Parallel variants- base cards signed by the artists and included as a second card in the pack. Base Set cards can be redeemed for Quarterly Character Achievement Cards, and when all four Achievement cards are earned, they can be redeemed for an exclusive 16” x 20” fred.ian signed lithograph! (And you do get to keep all the cards along the way).

For those collectors die-hard or lucky enough (or both), the first 33 full sets of 52 Gold Autograph cards can be redeemed for an exclusive and highly sought after fred.ian original Sketch Card at the end of the 52 weeks.

Examples of possible fred.ian sketch card redemptions

I’ve broken this series into four articles, looking at 13 paintings plus the battle Achievement card for each quarter. We’ll look at each piece individually and I’ll do my best to highlight what makes each one special. Today we look back at Quarter 3, and cards #27-39.

Quarter 3: Base #27-39 & Character Quarterly Achievement #3

#27 Alex Wilder

Alex Wilder by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

Quarter 3 begins with a character I wasn’t very familiar with, having not followed the Runaways storyline or subsequent TV show. After some research, it seems the de facto leader of the group is depicted exactly as one would expect: intense but with a bit of swagger, and a confidence bordering arrogance that would eventually be his downfall. I’ve mentioned it previously, but pay particular attention to the background in these works, starting again with this one. Fred and Ian’s complimentary backgrounds are simply fantastic, and are just as important as the figures they support.

#28 Captain America

Captain America by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

The artists had completed two versions of Captain America, an unused piece and this work that was used on the card. The First Avenger is seen in his “HOLD” pose, with certain death and destruction following in his wake. It’s a strong and stoic display of the American hero, and a quintessential depiction of the Star Spangled Man with a Plan. What a good lookin’ card.

#29 Cosmic Ghost Rider

Cosmic Ghost Rider by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

The origin story of the Cosmic Ghost Rider is a bit of a wild ride (pun fully intended). The TL;DR is that within an alternate timeline, Frank Castle, otherwise known as the Punisher, is one of the last standing as Thanos conquers Earth. A deal in Hell with Mephisto turns him into the Ghost Rider, and another with Galactus into the Cosmic Ghost Rider. The story continues, but here and now for this set is a vibrant and vicious version of the character, complete with a chain that breaks the frame and connects us to the Cosmic superpower. A little fire, a little space, and all attitude.

#30 Domino

Domino by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

What. A. Badass. The X-Force regular and master markswoman is shown here as we would expect, gun at the ready and against a blood red backdrop of a bullseye. She’s cool, calm, and collected, all business, and you’d have no idea from her outward appearance that she has any mutant characteristics at all. Domino is a fan favorite and collectors were more than excited to see her appear in this set.

#31 Gamora

Gamora by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

I know I keep saying I have a new favorite, but I’m serious this time (I think). This is a classic costume of the character that often doesn’t find its way into pop culture, with equal parts sexy and scary, poised and powerful. A contrapposto space Venus, her cape and hair flow against an interstellar backdrop, and make for a beautiful artwork and trading card. This is a Top 5 artwork from the set.

#32 Hellstrom

Hellstrom by fred.ian, oils on paper, 41cm x 51cm (16” x 20”)

Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, is shown here halfway between his civilian and superhero self, and we get another look at the artist’s superb rendering of fire and flame, just this time surrounding a male figure and subject. Hellstrom seems to be appearing with considerable frequency within the Marvel trading cards of late; perhaps that means we’ll soon be seeing them on the silver screen soon as well?

#33 Hercules

Hercules by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

Like our previous character, Hercules has shown up in every major Upper Deck set since 2020, from Masterpieces to the Black Diamond Exquisite collection, and has also found his place here within fred.ian’s Unbound as well! Rippling muscles and a barbaric yawp against a classical backdrop of pillar and stone make this myth of a man instantly recognizable. That roar we see as his expression is matched to his lion belt buckle at his waist, something easily missed at card size, but a brilliant and detailed tie in to the character himself.

#34 Ironheart

Ironheart by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

Super-genius Riri Williams created this suit in the image of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, and shown here in the 3.0 version, Ironheart has flown into Unbound just as she begins to make her way into the MCU. She propels herself up to stay within the card frame, and the background has a particular lightness, reinforced by the wind and wake patterns you can see at full resolution. Once again, these backgrounds are just as important as the characters themselves, and cannot be overlooked.

#35 Lockjaw & Crystal

Lockjaw & Crystal by fred.ian, oils on paper, 41cm x 55cm (16” x 21.6”)

This is only the second multi-figure work we’ve seen thus far in the set (Cloak & Dagger were the first, back in Quarter 1, but it wouldn’t have been right to have Crystal without her superhuman canine companion Lockjaw. Portal at their back, we get both characters larger than life as if they’ve just appeared before our very eyes, and I’ve gotta say, if Fred and Ian ever got tired of comic art, they’d have a line a mile long for pet portraits. What a good boy!

#36 Moon Knight

Moon Knight by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

Moon Knight is poised to take the MCU by storm, and the artist’s have placed him high above the head of an Egyptian statue, tying in his troubled backstory with his source of his mysticism seen behind his head. His billowing cape engulfs the entire card, and with crescent darts in hand, we literally get a complete character package in a single artwork. I’ve been excited about this character since Dave Palumbo’s Marvel Masterpieces 2020 version, and this version keeps my hype train running down the rails.

#37 Morbius

Morbius by fred.ian, oils on paper, 41cm x 51cm (16” x 20”)

Morbius, the Living Vampire makes his Unbound debut in this group, and we find him deep within his vampiric lair, perched atop what could very well be his own coffin! From the gothic capitals in the background to the blood red accents of his costume, this painting grabs your attention immediately, and forces you to engage with the entire work. This was also painted at the larger of the two sizes the artist worked at, and I’m sure is absolutely breathtaking (pun-intended) in person. As always, reach out to fred.ian’s agent Kirby’s Comic Art to check on availability of original works; this one may very well be able to fly onto your wall.

#38 Nick Fury

Nick Fury by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

This painting of Nick Fury brings together all parts of the character, from both his time as the Sergeant of the Howling Commandos to that as the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D, as seen by the symbol behind his head. Fury is seated but ready for action, and we’ve seen him depicted in this battle-ready costume a few times over the last few years, but usually not alongside the S.H.I.E.L.D symbology. In doing so the artist tells a larger story, and perhaps even foreshadows things to come? I guess we’ll see what’s in store for Nick.

#39 Nova

Nova by fred.ian, oils on paper, 41cm x 51cm (16” x 20”)

This is perhaps the greatest depiction of Nova in the history of cards and comics. I realize this is a large statement to make, but this painting made folks talk about the character that had never even heard of him before, and even those who only thought of him in passing were excited about his story for the first time. That is the power of great artwork, and of great artists putting their signature style to work to revitalize something like never before. It ended Quarter 3 with a bang, and left collectors and fans alike excited for the homestretch. Bravo Fred and Ian, you really knocked it out of the park with this one.

Achievement Card #3: Daredevil (Bullseye) vs. Elektra

Daredevil (Bullseye) vs. Elektra by fred.ian, oils on paper, 29.7cm x 40cm (11.7” x 15.7”)

At the end of every quarter, a collector can redeem one of each of the 13 weekly cards for an Achievement card showcasing a signature superhero battle.

Before we finish up we can’t forget about the achievement card, this time featuring Bullseye (disguised as Daredevil) fighting Elektra in the city streets. I absolutely love the artist’s depiction of Elektra, from the shine of her sai to the little bit of hip we see at the bottom of the card frame, these tiny details make her seem absolutely real. And for Bullseye, well that gritty grin gives him away entirely, as he manages his way into the set for a second time. I know there’s at least one person excited about that, and I can’t help but think we may be seeing more of him very soon.

Wrapping Up

Here ends the third Quarterly Report for this landmark set by fred.ian, and once again, these two gentlemen are creating art the likes we’ve never seen before in Marvel trading cards. You see these characters time and time again, and yet when you see their Unbound versions, you know exactly who has created them. They are unmistakable and completely unique, and that’s something very special.

There are only 13 more weekly cards and the final achievement to go, so I’ll be back on that final Monday to finish this little series up. Stay tuned to Masterpiece Theater here on Hipsters of the Coast for more Marvel original artwork from Upper Deck Entertainment trading card and sketch card sets!

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